NASA and Clark University are developing a system to train students
to plan and conduct missions by remotely controlled aircraft capable
of taking aerial images of natural disasters, crops and even of Mars
and other planets.

NASA anticipates that as the use of remotely piloted, unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs) expands, specialists must be trained to support
aerial missions expected to generate large numbers of pictures taken
with on-board, high-resolution digital imaging systems. Future
missions may include imaging flights that would help firefighters,
disaster relief workers and farmers.

“The primary thrusts of this new educational program are to train
people who can develop UAV technology, plan missions, conduct them
and accurately and quickly interpret the real-time digital images
acquired,” said Dr. Stanley Herwitz, professor of Earth science at
Clark University, Worcester, Mass. Herwitz serves as a UAV principal
investigator and leads a team of more than 20 researchers at NASA
Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “New technology
is now being developed that will produce an astonishing number of
aerial images taken from UAVs capable of long duration flight.”

Specific activities will include planning future UAV image
acquisition campaigns; developing procedures for operating UAVs in
Federal Aviation Administration-controlled airspace; testing and
evaluating high-resolution imaging systems; testing real-time
telemetry systems for payload control and data transfer; evaluating
data acquisition and control systems for real-time applications;
developing and packaging automated image processing streams;
integrating imaging payloads onto UAVs; and implementing educational
research opportunities for university students.

“More trained people are needed to evaluate aerial images so they
will be available on a timely basis,” he said. “These pictures will
have to be studied by specialists in order to be useful during
disasters, at harvest time and in other time-critical situations.”

An Ames-based research team led by Herwitz is conducting the $3.76
million project for NASA’s UAV Science Demonstration Program. The
effort will provide the first-ever commercial demonstration test of a
solar-powered UAV operating in national airspace this fall over the
largest coffee plantation in the United States. In addition, Herwitz
spearheaded the formation of a center at NASA Research Park adjacent
to NASA Ames to conduct collaborative UAV research and development as
well as educate students.

During a ceremony in May at NASA Ames, officials from Ames, NASA
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., Clark University and
the Girvan Institute, a non-profit organization located in NASA
Research Park, signed an agreement to establish the UAV Applications
Center in NASA Research Park. The charter of the new center is to
conduct collaborative research and development, leading to enhanced
scientific and commercial utilization of UAVs as high-resolution
imaging platforms in national airspace.

“Formation of the UAV Applications Center has led to the development
of an innovative educational program that will provide a trained
workforce with skills in UAV mission planning, geographic information
systems (GIS) and digital image analysis,” Herwitz said. “The nature
of our current UAV coffee project, using an environmentally friendly,
solar-powered aircraft, has an inspiring effect on students because
it is so futuristic.”

“I think it’s a really exciting opportunity because of the new
technology,” said Deborah Parker, a graduate student studying GIS at
Clark, who will be the first student to arrive for UAV training at
Ames in September. “Emergency management and fire response is
important, particularly this year with all the wildfires. It seems if
you had a UAV flying up there, you could watch for advancing fire
fronts, respond quicker and target your response.”

“Long-duration solar-powered aircraft, able to fly for many days
without landing, will develop in the future, and these students will
have an opportunity to be actively involved in the early stages,”
said Herwitz. Initially, he plans to develop classes in UAV
technology and aerial image analysis using a videoconference system
that will connect university students with the new UAV Applications

“The program will produce a significant return on investment,”
Herwitz said. “Its benefits may include such things as protecting the
environment and natural disaster response and mitigation. We are also
inspiring the next generation by involving them in the future of

The first demonstration site will be the largest coffee plantation in
the U.S., located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The project will
use a lightweight solar-powered flying wing called the Pathfinder
Plus, developed for NASA Dryden Flight Research Center with
AeroVironment, Inc., Monrovia, Calif.

Visit for details about the
UAV Coffee Project. Future demonstrations will be conducted to show
the utility of UAVs for high-resolution imaging systems in situations
where timely aerial imagery is needed on the ground.

Further information about Clark is available at:

For information about the NASA Research Park, please see the project Web site:

Publication-size images of the signing ceremony and UAV Coffee
Project are available at: